Eat Local! Honey
July 29, 2016
Ah, the drizzle of honey with toast and tea straight from that golden bear bottle you keep in your cupboard – such a classic sweetener. But what are the benefits of honey, really? Honey is an ancient sweetener that was used by Romans, Egyptians, and Greeks for thousands of years. This sweet nectar is depicted in Stone Age paintings dating back to 8,000 years and was traditionally used as a salve to heal wounds, burns, as a natural cough remedy, and to flavor mead and meats.
Honey is made from the nectar of flowers, which are pollinated by bees and carried back to the hive. Once at the hive, the bees regurgitate this nectar over and over until a sweet, sticky substance emerges. The fanning of bees’ wings cause evaporation to occur, resulting in the honey that we eat. Honey, in essence, is bee spit. But this miracle spit contains a plethora of nutrients including amino acids, antioxidants like flavonoids and quercetin, B vitamins, enzymes, and pollen. Although it contains only trace amounts of the aforementioned nutrients, a little goes a long ways.
Honey is made up almost entirely of the simple sugars fructose and glucose, along with water. Raw, or unpasteurized/unfiltered honey is simply honey that is taken straight from the hive and bottled. It contains traces of pollen and may contain bacteria, mold, and even bee parts. Processed honey (the kind you find in that plastic bear bottle in the store) is heated to remove bacteria and other substances. Research has shown that processed honey leaves no pollen and may even destroy some of the nutrients found in raw honey; however, this is not conclusive. Raw honey will crystallize in the bottle – don’t worry, this is a completely natural process and does not alter the flavor!
The color of honey ranges from almost clear to dark brown and everything in between. This is due to the botanical source of the honey, rather than processing and storage. Dark amber honey is richer in antioxidants and micronutrients than light honey. Furthermore, the flavor of honey differs year to year based the environment and health of surrounding flora. Honey comes in a variety of different flavors such as lavender, wildflower, clover, or buckwheat honey, depending on what was pollinated.
Raw honey contains trace amounts of pollen that, theoretically, when ingested in small amounts and gradually increasing amounts over time, could boost the immune system against environmental allergens if obtained from local honey. This may play a small role for those allergic to flowers and plants that bees pollinate (such as alfalfa); however, the majority of people with environmental allergens are allergic to grasses and weeds, which bees do not directly pollinate.
The strongest evidence for honey’s health benefits lies in its ability to heal wounds and serve as a cough remedy. Topically, honey may be used to heal burns (including sunburns), open sores, diabetic foot ulcers, and any skin abrasion because it serves as an antimicrobial that can kill bacteria festering in wounds. Honey is also effective for reducing duration and severity of coughs, and may safely be given to children over 1 year of age (do not give to infants due to risk of botulism).
Check out the following cough soother recipe!
Honey Cough Soother
Makes 4 servings
3 chamomile tea bags
1 cinnamon stick
3 cups boiling water
1/4 cup honey
Directions: Place tea bags and cinnamon stick in a 1-quart tea pot. Add boiling water; steep 3 to 5 minutes. Remove cinnamon stick and tea bags; discard. Stir in honey.
Recipe courtesy of the National Honey Board. For more honey recipes, visit www.honey.com
Article by Natalie Colla, RDN, LDN. Natalie is a graduate of the University of Idaho and Registered Dietitian at Panhandle Health District. She takes a “whole person” approach to health and believes in utilizing a combination of behavioral counseling, stress reduction, exercise, functional foods, and individualized diet therapy to achieve total wellness for a variety of chronic diseases.